Kidnapped Australian airs plea for payment of $2-M ransom
Philippine Daily Inquirer
A former Australian soldier kidnapped last month in Mindanao is seen pleading for his life in a video sent to his family and urging the Philippines and Australia to raise a $2-million ransom being demanded by his captors.
The video of 53-year-old Warren Richard Rodwell, along with four photographs showing him in handcuffs and apparently wounded in the right hand, were mailed to his Filipino wife before Christmas, police officials said.
The Associated Press saw a copy of the video and pictures Thursday.
Wearing a sweater and appearing to read from a piece of paper, Rodwell tried to clear his throat as he spoke in the brief video, which was given by his family to police investigators.
Looking haggard and unshaven, he squinted his eyes at times and stood in front of a blue tarpaulin covering a backdrop of vegetation.
One of the photos showed a silver handcuff and its chain dangling from his left wrist. The side of his right palm appeared to be wounded.
Rodwell, who also previously worked as a university teacher in Shanghai, was taken at gunpoint by about six men on December 5 in southern Ipil town in Zamboanga Sibugay province.
It was the latest abduction of a foreigner in the country’s volatile South, where several kidnappings have been blamed on the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group.
No group has claimed responsibility for Rodwell’s kidnapping, but officials suspect the Abu Sayyaf and its allied gunmen may be responsible.
Senior Superintendent Ruben Cariaga told the Associated Press on Sunday that the kidnappers called Rodwell’s wife before Christmas to demand an initial ransom of $23,000.
The Australian government has established a task force to investigate the kidnapping and negotiate with the captors. Australia has a longstanding policy of refusing to pay ransoms.
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Thursday declined to comment on developments in the investigation.
“Our primary focus remains Mr. Rodwell’s welfare,” the department said in a statement.
“Our embassy in the Philippines is working closely with local authorities with support from a whole-of-government task force in Canberra,” it added.
Hundreds of Philippine troops and police have been searching for Rodwell in the Zamboanga peninsula and nearby Basilan island, where the Abu Sayyaf and other militant Moro groups are active.
The separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a major insurgent group engaged in peace talks with the government, said this week it would intensify efforts to help secure Rodwell’s freedom in coordination with authorities.
In the video, a distressed-looking Rodwell urged authorities to do all they can to secure his freedom.
“To my family, please do whatever to raise the US$2 million they are asking for my release as soon as possible,” he said in the video obtained by Sydney Morning Herald.
“To the Australian Embassy here in the Philippines, this is your constituent appealing for his life, his safety. Please help facilitate.
“I was a former Army soldier of my country but it’s different here, particularly the terrain. The only solution to ensure my safety is to go with whatever they need.
“If I’m given my last wish, my last wish is to please help me out of here alive, please Madam ambassador,” he added in the broadcast that lasted less than two minutes.
The Herald said the video was sent by the kidnappers to Rodwell’s Filipino wife, Miraflor Gutang, shortly before Christmas.
Major General Noel Coballes, the Army commander in Ipil, said Rodwell, originally from Sydney, tried to fight back and was hurt when he was snatched from his home, which he shared with Gutang.
The Sydney newspaper said it had four photos of Rodwell that showed him with a wound on his right hand while his left hand was in handcuffs. It said the photos were taken last December 12, but his condition since then was unknown. Reports from AP and AFP